"The Nightmare Man" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Crooked Lane Books
Written by J.H. Markert
2023, 336 pages, Fiction
Released on 10th January 2023
J.H. Markert is the penname for James Markert, who has been writing historical fiction since 2010 and promises in the endnotes that anything further which is “contemporary and horrifying” will be published with this variation. I haven’t come across any of his other work, but I imagine The Nightmare Man is a startling change of pace, and, for a debut horror/thriller, is a complex read which throws everything at the reader except the kitchen sink. It certainly had me on the hook and I did not guess who the killer was until around 80% of the novel was done.
Horror/thriller author Ben Bookman, who has a drinking problem, is the most prominent of several main characters, and for the majority of the book remains very unlikable and obnoxious, so much so, I hoped he would meet the same gruesome fate as some of the characters in his bestselling novels! When events kick-off, he is doing a signing for his latest hit ‘The Scarecrow’ and a fan in the queue shoots themself when he reaches the front of the line. Around the same time, a second major character, veteran Detective Winchester Mills, is investigating the murder of a family butchered and bundled inside cocoons stitched from corn husks and hung from the rafters of their barn. It is quickly revealed that this murder scene uncannily resembles the opening murder scene in Bookman’s latest novel ‘The Scarecrow’.
It would have been easy to write a thriller in which a copycat killer is the central theme, but The Nightmare Man is significantly more complicated and quickly expands the plot into wider arcs. Ben Bookman might be the obnoxious, mentally tortured, and the prime murder suspect, but other characters and their relationships provide further distractions from his disintegrating personal life. Winchester Mills has a daughter (Samantha Blue) who is also on the police force and they have their own family problems, as does Bookman and his heavily pregnant wife, with a whiff of infidelity in their recent history. In many ways families lie at the heart of the story, and the question of how tricky it is to leave the past behind, especially when there are secrets behind every dysfunctional door.
The ’before’ storyline concerns Ben’s childhood, teen years, and the family home of Blackwood Mansion, which is seen as a place of unhappy memories, where Ben’s little brother disappeared thirteen years earlier. There are also other dark clouds and unanswered questions regarding Ben’s psychologist grandfather, who built and managed his own asylum on the estate, whose speciality was helping children who had recurring bad dreams. Nightmares play a big part of the book and thread through the various characters and storylines and the potentially supernatural aspect of the novel.
There is a lot going on in The Nightmare Man, which nicely blends horror, thriller, suspense and mystery whilst throwing in some far-fetched psychology and a truly bizarre way of ‘capturing’ nightmares. Where do nightmares go you might ask? This story has some off-the-wall theories and once you read this it is very easy to see why scarecrows can become a boogieman to many. There is a lot going on in The Nightmare Man and it has the juice to find an audience amongst both horror and thriller fans.
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